Please Excuse My Rant
When I started this blog, I meant to catalog my thoughts and lessons learned as I progressed as a new leader–particularly in my volunteer work with my fraternity. I haven't written as much as I would have liked, but today, at 4:30am, after a sleepless night, I feel compelled to put fingers to keyboard and write.
This post will be very personal. This post will not be edited, so excuse poor word choice or incoherent thoughts (and especially its stream-of-consciousness style and long word count). This post has nothing to do with leadership or strategy or management. This post is my way of taming the thoughts, fears, and emotions that have held me captive in the wake of the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the five Dallas police officers killed during a peaceful demonstration about the aforementioned deaths. So, in advance, please excuse my rant.
I have had a few discussions the last few days about the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling, and later, Philando Castile. I've been passionate about the ills I see in our criminal justice system. I've written about the failure of our criminal justice system to provide a quick and fair process for youth and minority defendants, the over reliance on plea bargaining and how the power dynamics there imprison innocent people and I've donated to organizations who fight for indigent legal rights, But in my opinion, there are three major social issues of our time–the fight for equality of the LGBTQ community, the rollback of the right to a safe abortion, and the use of excessive force taking the lives of minority men. I am passionate about all of these issues, but as a young male minority, I'm most personally impacted by policing practices and excessive force. The Black Lives Matter movement speaks to me.
Now, when I say I'm personally impacted by police practices, I mean it. In my short life I've had several encounters with law enforcement. I've been stopped by police for the crime of being 19 years old in baggy jeans–or as I'm sure the officers would put it I "fit the description of someone they're looking for." And it sucks to be stopped, but it sucks more to ask a law enforcement officer what I've done wrong and being thrown against a wall and told to "shut the fuck up." I've been the victim of a crime and grilled and questioned by police about what I've done wrong to be violently attacked. I've had other encounters with police that have demonstrated a disregard and disrespect for my humanity that are just too personal to write about here. I can write about how it's insane that someone like me, who's never committed a crime worse than shoplifting some candy from a toy store as a kid, has had multiple negative encounters with the police, but that's being a Latino male in this country. All of this is to say–I talk it because I've lived it.
I started my evening drafting a statement on behalf of my fraternity about the recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was a proud moment for me. I try to never let my personal politics interfere with the work of my organization, but when membership and leadership began discussing the need to take action, I leapt up. I had ideas, thoughts, tactics ready. Finally, an opportunity to work with my Hermanos to enact change.
As I'm finalizing the plan and drafting the message to membership, social media begins to light up. Three officers shot in Dallas at a BLM march. "Oh no," I think. "we can't let violence be met with more violence. We'll never get change. Lawmakers will label this a terrorist movement." As the night unfolded more information slowly leaked out. Snipers. A bomb. A BLM leader's sibling as a main suspect. News that the same suspect had been falsely labeled as a suspect. A police standoff. Bombs all over the city. Five police officers killed. It was overwhelming. It's still overwhelming.
I hope against hope and wish with all my heart that when all of the information is out, that this isn't a deliberate attack of vengeance against police officers. While I talk to friends, write letters, sign petitions, and generally disparage unjust police practices, it's not to vilify police officers. I wish them no harm. I'm equally pained by the loss of their lives. I equally abhor the conduct of their killers. These were the good guys. These were men defending the right of citizens to peacefully protest against their own brothers in arms.
Now, I'm at a loss for what to think and do. If this mass murder was conducted by some fringe BLM members, can I continue to support the movement? By adding my voice to the chorus of outrage at death at the hands of police, am I inadvertently inciting more violence?
I think more broadly too: What does this mean for one of the biggest social issues of our time? Is the movement over? Or is this the beginning of an escalation of violence? Are we only a half step away from repeating the violent riots of Newark, Watts, Detroit and Harlem? If so, why are we repeating history? Why haven't we learned anything and grown in the almost two generations since those riots?
I've always considered myself hopeful. My politics are politics of hope, of helping people, of prospering together. But I look at events like tonight, and I have to really, really fight hard to reaffirm my hope. I want to be hopeful about our future. I'm going to keep watching and waiting–looking for signs to be hopeful about.